Scarborough budget proposals start with 5.3% tax hike

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SCARBOROUGH — Town and school officials Wednesday presented a $65 million combined budget that assumes a 5.3 percent tax increase.

Whether the proposal remains intact remains to be seen, since the Town Council has said it wants to cap annual tax increases at 3 percent.

Town Manager Thomas Hall and Superintendent of Schools Julie Kukenberger described their fiscal year 2019 proposals as bare-bones spending plans needed to maintain services and improve education. 

The council will hold a first reading of the budgets April 11.

Under the combined budget, an additional $3.3 million, or 5.3 percent, would have to be raised through property taxes, compared with current spending. If the increase is capped at 3 percent, owners of a home valued at $300,000 would pay about $5,150 in taxes next year, according to Hall’s calculations. 

“Now it’s your budget, and your process,” he told the council, noting the community is going through challenging times. “We are here to serve the public and the budget is the vehicle to provide those services. It is something we can all get involved in and get behind.”

In an effort to increase public input, four listening sessions have been held on both budgets to get feedback from residents, with a total of about 70 people in attendance, Hall said.

A public hearing and second reading of the town budget will be held before adoption is slated for May 16.

The school budget must ultimately be approved in a June 12 voter referendum. 

Hall described the $34.4 million town budget, up by 5.5 percent, or $1.8 million, as “corrective,” noting there was a heavy use of fund balance in the current year.

“We will be in a different position next year,  but we have some challenges to get through,” Hall said.

The net town budget is about $16 million when factoring in revenue. 

If the council pares down the budget, Hall said, the reality would include a reduction of services, but at a magnitude to be decided by the council.

A commercial property revaluation, continuing through the spring, will likely have a positive impact on taxes, Hall said, but he emphasized it is too soon to know what the effect will be.

The town budget includes $15 million in bonds approved to pay for a new public safety building, which pushes this year’s budget up by $756,000, and a rise in salaries and benefits for town employees, which accounts for 60 percent of the budget, Hall said. 

School budget

Kukenberger said the School Department’s proposed $50 million budget, including adult education and nutritional services, covers only essential services.

The net budget proposal of $44.9 million seeks an additional $2.5 million in taxes next year, a nearly 6 percent increase, although the increase in expenditures is only 2.9 percent.  

The superintendent said the budget proposal meets the schools’ needs and would continue to improve the town’s school system. 

The budget is driven by the increasing needs of students who require individualized programming and services – an increase of $375,000 – as well was an additional kindergarten teacher at Pleasant Hill School due to an enrollment increase – a cost of $75,000 – and an increase in salaries and benefits for staff. 

Kukenberger said those salaries and benefits account for 74 percent of the budget.

Reductions in the budget include two teaching positions at the middle school, as well as a position at Wentworth Intermediate School, all due to declining enrollment. 

The superintendent said some services would be expanded, including introducing foreign languages to fifth-graders, and expanding general music education to the eighth-grade. 

Juliette Laaka can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 106 or at jlaaka@theforecaster.net. 

Scarborough School Superintendent Julie Kukenberger, left, and Town Manager Thomas Hall present their respective budgets to the Town Council April 4. 

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